HUNTLEY – Of its 24 victories this season, Crystal Lake Central likely will stick this one at the top of the list.
Playing on the road, in the final game of the regular season, against three-time Fox Valley Conference Valley Division champion Huntley, the Tigers turned in a complete and dominant performance.
In a much-anticipated matchup of the FVC division champions, Central struck a blow for the Fox with a 54-37 victory Friday at Huntley’s gym.
The Tigers (24-3) shot 63.8 percent (23 of 36) through the three quarters that mattered, while Huntley (17-8) managed only 25 percent (9 of 36). Central had a 49-24 lead after the third quarter.
“These guys are the standard around here,” Central coach Rich Czeslawski said. “You look at the success Huntley’s had the last few years. To beat a team like that is a big deal because they’re so good and they’re so consistent and [coach] Marty [Manning] has run such a great program. We must have really played well.”
The defense set the tone, making it tough on the Red Raiders, while point guard Brad Knoeppel ran the offense adeptly, squeezing through the tiniest gaps for layups and scoring a game-high 17 points.
“My teammates told me to keep picking it up,” Knoeppel said. “I tried to get the ball and kick it out when I drive. Other guys were knocking down shots. That was our best defensive game of the year. It was our most complete game of the year.”
Central hit 15 of 24 first-half field goals for a 31-16 lead, then hit 8 of 12 in the third quarter.
“They flat-out kicked our butts tonight,” Huntley forward Bryce Only said. “There’s no doubt about it. Give credit where credit is due. They did a great job. They scouted us very well and scouted our plays, they knew what was coming. You have to match their intensity with defensive pressure and we didn’t do that.”
When Knoeppel was not driving inside, Tigers guard Corban Murphy and big men Kyle Fleck and David Panicko were hitting outside shots. Murphy scored 11 points, while Fleck added 11 points with 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.
“We knew they were a good team and we played a complete game,” Fleck said. “We came out with a lot of energy, that was good. It was a fun environment to play in.”
Amanze Egekeze led Huntley with 12 points, while Only added nine.
“They were really good defensively, they were really good offensively,” Manning said. “They’re a really good team. They came out and played really hard, defended us well and knocked down shots. Knoeppel took it in the lane and scored, basically at will on us. When you have your point guard shooting layups and your center shooting 3s, you’re a good basketball team.”